News & Opinion

Game on: The LPGA is back

2020 LPGA season restart graphic
Many of the top players in women’s golf will return to competition this week as the LPGA ends a 5-month hiatus. Among them, American Lexi Thompson (from left), Australia’s Minjee Lee and Nelly Korda of the U.S.

But get ready for changes along the way, as travel restrictions and potential positive coronavirus tests could throw a wrench into the revised schedule

This year has been a time of collective uncertainty for so much around the world, and women’s golf has not been immune to that reality.

For the best female golfers in the world, it’s nearly time to get back to work. But there still are more questions than answers.

The LPGA Tour is scheduled to return this week at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, for the LPGA Drive On Championship, a new event added to the tour’s revised schedule. Financial support for the 54-hole, $1 million tournament, which begins Friday, is coming from a handful of events that had been canceled amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve waited long enough,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said on a conference call with media in mid-July.

“Every time I’m talking to friends, they will say, ‘Come on, you guys can play. I’m playing golf.’ I’m like, ‘Of course, you can put your clubs in your car and drive down to your course, but you don’t do what we do to play golf.’ ”

And there is still another potential wrench in the plan for the LPGA Tour’s return.

On July 23, Ohio issued an out-of-state travel advisory for states with a test-positivity rate above 15 percent. That list of nine states includes Arizona, Texas, Nevada and Florida – where so many of the LPGA Tour’s stars call home. Travelers visiting Ohio from one of those states, according to the issue by Gov. Mike DeWine, should self-quarantine for 14 days.

A request for comment by Morning Read to the LPGA Tour regarding how the advisory might affect the first two tournaments was not immediately returned. However, in an email sent to LPGA players late Friday and obtained by Morning Read, the White House confirmed that athletes and essential personnel entering the United States may proceed directly to tournament sites and participate in LPGA (and the developmental Symetra Tour) events without the 14-day quarantine period “because they are subject to/and adhere to the LPGA’s strict testing and screening protocols during tournament weeks.”

As it stands, the revised LPGA Tour schedule extends through the week before Christmas with 18 events (the LPGA has played only four so far, and none since Feb. 16). The first event back will be the only “new” event on the schedule that features one fewer major championship after the Evian was canceled.

Only four of the top-10 golfers in the world will tee it up at the first event in Ohio, led by No. 2 Nelly Korda. Many of the top non-American players will not compete because of travel restrictions.

Whan said more schedule changes likely will be made.

“I fully believe we’ll lose another event or two or three along the way,” he said. “I couldn’t really tell you which ones, but it would be probably naïve of me to think we are just going to roll through our season and roll through different countries and be able to play exactly as we have slated.

“I’m excited about the schedule we have remaining for 2020; and at the same time, 120 days or so into the coronavirus, I realize we are really not in charge of that schedule.”

Whan has been in constant communication with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and has the benefit of getting his season started almost two months after the men’s tour got back in action. The LPGA Tour’s plan is a hybrid model of the PGA Tour’s and its own, as it is including pro-am participants in the testing bubble week to week. Local caddies will not be allowed.

The LPGA Tour commissioner said, to Monahan’s credit, that the PGA Tour’s boss “feels the responsibility of ‘he led golf back’ ” and the LPGA Tour following him is “important for golf.”

“Everybody is living the COVID problem,” Whan said, “but very few are living a ‘commissioner-of-golf-sport-COVID problem.’ ”

There have been seven reported positive tests among players on the PGA Tour but no outbreaks that forced tournaments to be canceled. Whan said the biggest thing he has learned from watching the PGA Tour’s return is how Monahan and his team have handled a positive test. The LPGA Tour will be using the PGA and European tours’ medical teams’ advice. Golfers who tested positive on the PGA Tour were required to withdraw immediately from the event. The LPGA will follow a similar protocol.

While the LPGA Tour continues to navigate its COVID-19 concerns and can lean on the PGA Tour and its staff for advice, the financial health of the events is something the women’s tour has to deal with differently than the men’s tour. The LPGA’s coffers aren’t as deep, and the pro-am is an important part of the financial picture week-to-week.

“If we can’t figure out how to play pro-ams, the LPGA is going to have some challenges in [2020] and beyond,” Whan said. “We plan to play pro-ams. We plan to play pro-ams with the same testing format we are using for our players, staff and caddies.”

Next week’s Marathon Classic, for example, usually includes five pro-ams. This year, there will be just two, and one will be off-site.

Despite lingering uncertainty with the coronavirus and cash flow, most players are ready to compete again. If tournaments are scheduled and they can get there, they’re going to tee it up.

“I feel more and more excited to get back because I can picture more what it’s going to look like out there,” said Sweden’s Pernilla Lindberg, a major champion who lives in Orlando, Fla., and is part of the six-player advisory board. “I’m really excited to get back, because the closer we get, the more certainty we have.”

The time has arrived for the LPGA Tour and its players to get back to work. As far as everything else is concerned, we’ll have to wait and see.

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